The New Jersey Law Journal by Mary Pat Gallagher - September 1, 2010
Wanda Molina, the Jersey City, N.J., chief municipal judge at the center of a ticket-fixing scandal that caused her and three other judges to lose their jobs and face criminal charges, was sentenced on Aug. 27 to 364 days in jail, though she may be able to avoid hard time. Bergen County Superior Court Judge Harry Carroll also imposed a three-year probationary term to be served first, and at the end of it, Molina can apply to vacate the prison sentence. "We're very happy with the result because basically she won't do any jail time as long as she successfully completes probation and there is no reason to believe that that won't happen," says Molina's lawyer, Anna Cominsky of Krovatin Klingeman in Newark. If Molina does end up behind bars, she will be incarcerated in the county jail rather than a state prison because her sentence is for less than one year. The sentence also requires Molina to perform 500 hours of community service and make restitution for the value of the fixed tickets. Cominsky says that should be no problem for Molina, who has "always been very active in her community" providing free legal services to those who need them and aiding women's groups and Hispanic groups. Molina pleaded guilty on June 4 to tampering with and falsifying public records, which are third- and fourth- degree offenses. She admitted that between Oct. 30, 2006, and April 2, 2007, while she was Jersey City's chief municipal judge, she caused eight parking tickets issued to her live-in companion to be dismissed. On three of them, she wrote the word "emergency," falsely indicating that there were compelling circumstances to justify the illegal parking. The ticket tampering came to light in September 2007 after Hudson County Assignment Judge Maurice Gallipoli and Trial Court Administrator Joseph Davis received a tip about it and launched an internal probe with assistance from the Administrative Office of the Courts.
The inquiry led to the suspension of former Jersey City municipal court administrator Virginia Pagan and another court worker on Sept. 10, followed on Sept. 21 by the resignation of Molina, who had been chief judge since December 2004. By early October, three other judges -- Irwin Rosen, Pauline Sica and Victor Sison -- had taken unpaid leaves of absence, opening up a four-judge hole on the Jersey City bench that was filled by judges from Bayonne, Harrison, Hoboken and other municipal courts within the vicinage until new judges could be appointed. The Supreme Court installed Superior Court Judge Sheila Venable as acting municipal chief judge in Jersey City and assigned Gallipoli to run the court's day-to-day operations. Criminal charges were lodged against the four judges and Pagan. They were arraigned in Hudson County before Superior Court Judge Peter Vazquez but the cases were transferred to Bergen County because the chief prosecution witnesses were expected to be Gallipoli and Davis. A grand jury issued an indictment in December 2008. Sica and Sison were allowed into the pretrial intervention program last year and will likely see the charges against them dismissed on successful completion of its two-year term. Both had confessed to ticket-fixing. Charges against Rosen over dismissal of a single ticket against himself were thrown out at the request of the Attorney General's Office "in the interest of justice," based on Rosen's explanation that he followed a long-standing practice regarding parking outside places of worship. The proper procedure would have been for another judge to review and dismiss it, but Rosen's actions "did not rise to the level of a crime," says Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the office. A fifth judge, Vincent Signorile, was investigated but not charged.
Pagan, who fixed many more tickets than Molina, was sentenced Aug. 20 to three years in state prison after pleading guilty on June 17 to official misconduct. Pagan admitted that between Nov. 9, 1999, and April 1, 2007, she accessed the court's computer record system and made entries dismissing 215 parking tickets issued to herself and her daughter. She must also make full restitution for the more than $5,000 in fines, penalties and costs associated with the dismissed tickets. Molina is permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey. She has a law practice in Jersey City and is "really looking forward to putting this all behind her and moving on," Cominsky says. "This has taken up the past three years of her life." Attorney General Paula Dow said after the sentencing "Ms. Molina broke the law and violated a fundamental rule of judicial conduct prohibiting judges from adjudicating matters in which they have a personal interest." To date, no complaint against any of the judges has been lodged by the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct. In the wake of the ticket scandal, a comprehensive review of ticket-dismissal procedures around the state by the AOC resulted in new directives concerning the disposition of cases involving court employees and their family members. The AOC also increased ethics training for local judges and court administrators; directed the Conference of Municipal Court Division Managers to recommend improvements to the monitoring of dismissals; and improved the interface between computer systems of the Motor Vehicle Commission to allow better monitoring of ticket dismissals.
OFFICE OF THE NJ ATTORNEY GENERAL PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release:
For Further Information:
Office of The Attorney General - Paula T. Dow, Attorney General
Division of Criminal Justice - Stephen J. Taylor, Director
Media Inquiries-Peter Aseltine 609-292-4791;Citizen Inquiries-609-292-4925
Former Chief Judge of Jersey City Municipal Court Sentenced for Fixing Parking Tickets
TRENTON, NJ – Attorney General Paula T. Dow and Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor announced that Wanda Molina, former Chief Judge of the Jersey City Municipal Court, was sentenced to jail today for fixing parking tickets. According to Director Taylor, Molina, 51, of Jersey City, was sentenced to 364 days in county jail as a condition of a term of three years of probation by Superior Court Judge Harry G. Carroll in Bergen County. The judge also ordered Molina to perform 500 hours of community service. On June 4, Molina pleaded guilty to tampering with public records or information and falsifying records. Those charges were contained in a Dec. 11, 2008 state grand jury indictment obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau.
In pleading guilty, Molina admitted that between October 30, 2006 and April 2, 2007, she took judicial action to dismiss eight parking tickets that were issued to a close personal companion. She admitted that she wrote the word “emergency” on three of the tickets, falsely indicating that there were compelling circumstances to justify the illegal parking, when in fact there were not. Molina was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of the dismissed tickets. Molina resigned as chief judge on Sept. 21, 2007 in connection with this case, and she will be permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey. Deputy Attorney General Richard Queen took the guilty plea and represented the Division of Criminal Justice at the sentencing. “Ms. Molina broke the law and violated a fundamental rule of judicial conduct prohibiting judges from adjudicating matters in which they have a personal interest,” said Attorney General Dow. “This sentence demonstrates that no one is above the law.” “Whenever there are allegations of criminal conduct by court officials, it can shake public confidence in our judicial system,” said Director Taylor. “By vigorously prosecuting such cases, we hope to restore public confidence and prevent misconduct going forward.” On Aug. 20, Virginia Pagan, 55, of Jersey City, the former Administrator of the Jersey City Municipal Court, was sentenced to three years in state prison by Judge Carroll. She pleaded guilty on June 17 to second-degree official misconduct, a charge contained in a July 14, 2008 state grand jury indictment obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Pagan admitted that between Nov. 9, 1999 and April 1, 2007, she used her official position to access the court’s computer record system and make entries dismissing 215 parking tickets, carrying potential fines in excess of $5,000, which had been issued to her and her daughter. The judge ordered Pagan to pay full restitution for the fines, penalties and costs associated with the dismissed tickets. Pagan resigned from her court position in September 2007 after her alleged misconduct came to light. As a result of the guilty plea, she was also ordered to be permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey. Hudson County Assignment Judge Maurice J. Gallipoli initially investigated allegations regarding irregularities in the disposition of tickets in Jersey City Municipal Court. He referred the matter to the Attorney General’s Office. The case was investigated by Detective Lisa Cawley and Sgt. Lisa A. Shea of the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Deputy Attorney General Asha Vaghela presented the cases to the state grand jury. Attorney General Dow noted that the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau has established a toll-free Corruption Tipline for the public to report corruption, financial crime and other illegal activities. The statewide Corruption Tipline is 1-866-TIPS-4CJ. Additionally, the public can log on to the Division of Criminal Justice Web site at www.njdcj.org to report suspected wrongdoing. All information received through the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Tipline or Web page will remain confidential. ###